Working with an Invisible & Silent Killer on the Jobsite
This invisible & silent killer is Carbon Monoxide (CO), a poisonous, colorless, odorless & tasteless gas. Carbon Monoxide may be odorless, but often gets mixed with other gases with an odor. Carbon Monoxide is a common industrial hazard, CO is the result of the incomplete burning of material containing carbon such as, natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal and wood. One of the most common sources of carbon monoxide exposure on jobsites comes from the internal combustion engine.
How Harmful is Carbon Monoxide
In large amounts, carbon monoxide can overcome you in just minutes, causing you to lose consciousness and suffocate. CO is harmful when breathed in because it displaces the oxygen present in the blood, which deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly, but can also be reversed if it caught in time. Even if you are lucky enough to recover, acute poisoning may still result in permanent damage to the heart & brain. Significant reproductive risk has also been linked to carbon monoxide poisoning.
What are Common Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Symptoms will vary widely from person to person, but will occur sooner in persons most susceptible such as: young children, elderly, people with heart or lung disease, workers at height, smokers & people with elevated CO blood levels. This includes an elevated risk to fetuses.
- Tightness across the chest
- Sudden chest pain
Prolonged or High Exposure Can Lead to
- Symptoms worsening
- Passing out
- Loss of consciousness
- Muscle weakness
What Should You Do if You Expect Someone Has Been Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide
- Immediately move the victim to an open area with fresh air
- Seek out medical attention/assistance, call 911 or other local emergency number
- If victim is still breathing, administer 100% oxygen to the victim using a tight-fitting mask
- If victim has stopped breathing, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation
Make sure that rescuers are not exposed to dangerous carbon monoxide levels when performing rescue operations.
How Can Employers Help Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Install an effective ventilation systems that remove CO from work areas
- Maintain equipment and appliances on a regular basis that can produce CO
- Consider switching from gasoline-powered equipment to equipment powered by electricity, batteries, or compressed air if possible
- Prohibit the use of gasoline-powered engines and tools in poorly ventilated areas
- Provide personal CO monitors with audible alarms if potential exposure to CO exists
- Test air regularly in areas where CO may be present
- Use additional self-contained breathing apparatus with proper air supply in areas with high CO concentrations
- Use respirators with appropriate canisters, in conjunction with personal CO monitoring, for short periods under certain circumstances where CO levels are not exceedingly high
- Educate workers about the sources and conditions that may result in CO poisoning as well as the symptoms and control of CO exposure
- If your employees are working in confined spaces where the presence of CO is suspected, you must ensure that workers test for oxygen sufficiency before entering
OSHA Standards for Carbon Monoxide Exposure
- The OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for CO is 50 parts per million (ppm). OSHA standards prohibit worker exposure to more than 50 parts of CO gas per million parts of air averaged during an 8-hour time period.
- The 8-hour PEL for CO in maritime operations is also 50 ppm. Maritime workers, however, must be removed from exposure if the CO oncentration in the atmosphere exceeds 100 ppm. The peak CO level for employees engaged in Ro-Ro operations (roll-on rolloff operations during cargo loading and unloading) is 200 ppm.